It had become fairly evident to the Diplomat and I that if we were to remain sane we needed to broaden our horizons and get outside Bangkok. After the train ride to Hua Hin with its return trip in a lovely, A/Ced car in two hours compared to the sweaty five hour train ride down there, the pressing urgency to gain a set of wheels for ourselves had manifested itself in contacting an agency who specialized in hunting down suitable vehicles for ex-pats and diplomats. Of course, said agency operates inside a tax haven, but that’s their prerogative. Couple this with that fact that an imported car in Thailand can result in as much as 100% import duty and you’re looking at a problem laying your hands on the usual Audi or BMW if that’s your usual European fancy.
Luckily, some other diplomats living near us had gone through the same car purchasing process a few months earlier and, as the dealer intended, we ended up buying a new Ford Everest (2010 model) straight off a parking lot in Thailand. There is a irony in that the Ford Everest commenced manufacture in Thailand in 2003 solely for the export market. So it you want to buy one, even though it’ll be shipped to you from within Thailand, it’s classed as an import and thus liable for duty – unless, of course, you are a diplomat with the necessary immunity from these things. All things being done we took delivery of our brand spanking new vehicle just after Christmas. Now, after this occurs you then have to get your vehicle registered at the Department of Land Transport in Bangkok. To do this, you must have several pieces of paper filled out perfectly in Thai or you’ll find yourself on the bureaucratic merry-go-round. Again, we are fortunate, because the Embassy has Thai employees (LES – locally engaged staff) who will prepare all this for you. Imagine if we had to do this with our scant amount of Thai language skills basically amounting to numbers and taxi directing….
Did I say “kwah”? Heck, I meant “sai”. What? Oh, we have to drive round the block through the 20minutes traffic jam again because I said “right” and I meant “left”? For another 50Baht? <sigh> Alright then. – A conversation that has been had more than once. Try it with a screaming Isla and a glaring Diplomat.
Anyway, I digress….at this point we were happily told to head down to the Department of Land Transport, to… “hand the documents in; they’ll likely have a quick look at your car so you can’t have number plates on them either and you’ll get your documents.” What could be simpler? Sounded easier than dealing with the DVLA.
In hindsight, two pieces of information came back to haunt me. One was the glib statement muttered a few weeks earlier by ‘I-forget-whom’ that “Oh yeah, you can pay 5000Baht for a “fixer” to go with you and get it all done”. The other the observation in a discussion on cultural history of bureaucracy that it was ostensibly the Italians who had given the Thais a love of bureaucracy when an Italian man had managed to reach a position of some height in the royal court many, many years ago and introduced a whole raft of processes for dealing with paperwork. On the plus side it ensures many people are employed, on the negative it means that getting paperwork sorted here can take hours. These are the kind of statements you should pay attention to.
It was a bright sunny morning when I engaged the Polyglot to come with me, on the off chance I got into linguistic shenanigans, to drive down the DLT to register the car. A 15minute ride took me 26 minutes because of my inability to get on the right roads around Bangkok (it is tricky, I assure you) but we eventually got to Building No 2, fortuitously located a space right outside the building, and merrily headed in. Before I go any further I have found an interesting parking concept here in Thailand. If you imagine your usual car park in Europe/Canada/US then you have two bays end to end in rows. Thailand has the same but also has a long single lane perpendicular to one of the bays. Effectively you can park your car across the rear/front (depends how they parked) of all those cars.
You can see what I mean from this picture. The car parked across the others is left out of gear, no parking/hand brake on, front wheels straight. There also has to be enough space (1-2 cars) so people can push cars backwards and forwards to create a gap so they can then get out. In the picture the car on the left is pulled out of the way by the owners of the white car. I have to say that this process works superbly. In a place with no space what a great idea.
We got into the building and went to information to be told we had to go to Building 1, then come back to Building 2 and go to the 3rd floor. All of this conversation held in fluent Thai. I think it accurate to say I now owe the Polyglot a veritable lake of wine as thanks for all this. Fair enough. We jauntily headed outside into the sun and went to Building 1 – which was curiously silent and had no public entrance way. Spotting a helpful Thai lady she pointed us down the hall where we found ourselves in an office. A dozen pair of eyes swiveled our way. This was a proper office; it hardly catered for visitors. However, the sound of a white farang, speaking nearly perfect Thai won them over instantly. Without making too much of the Polyglot, the tonal cadences of Thai make it all the more impressive to Thais when they hear a farang not only speaking Thai, but also with excellent intonation. As a quick example the word mai can be pronounced in five different ways, each meaning five completely different things. You might think you’ve ordered a glass of water, you’ve used the right words, but your pronunciation of them has means you’ve actually said you want to windsurf on a leopard. Anyway, I’ll leave the discourse on Thai language to the Polyglot who has promised his own blog one day on the matter.
We learned that we had to have one document stamped and we then, in fact, had to drive down to Building 4 to get our vehicle inspected. Really? Yes. Really.
So, we headed to our car, pushed a few out of the way (see above) and trundled down a 100m strip to a building that a hundred taxis seemed to be heaving against each other to gain entrance to. I quickly realised we were on a conveyor belt of an MOT. There were five entrances, six cars in each lane being checked at any time. Talk about efficiency.
I hope these pictures give a rough idea. After waiting ten minutes I then had to head round to Building 2 again to try and park – a 20minute exercise – whilst the Polyglot hopped out and went to sit inside a waiting room where he waited for our number to be called. It was like being in Argos or Clarks shoe shop. That took 30 minutes for us to get a piece of paper effectively telling us we had passed our MOT. Walking back to Building 2 we entered, rechecked our steps and headed up to Level 3. Information there told us to go desk 23 then we’d go to Level 2. Desk 23 did something then told us to go to Desk 18 at the opposite end of the floor.
“But we were told by that lady” a specific point of a finger. “to go to Level 2 after seeing you.”
“Go to 18.”
Off we slouched to 18. The lady there was very nice, handed us back on our our multitude pieces of paper and said “Go stamp that at Desk 1. Opposite the Information”. We trundled back. Got a stamp. Headed back to 18. At this point we were told that we had to come back in 2 weeks to get our number plates and tomorrow to get the completed registration document….whhhhaaattttt????? (remember that two hours had gone by at this point). So much for the “you’ll be 30mins…tops…I promise” load of malarkey we’d been spun by smirking Canadians.
At this point the lady at desk 18 relented, in part by our expressive dismay and the fluency of the Polyglot who had been forced by a particularly convoluted word to phone a friend for assistance. In this case, it felt like we were calling to get the answer to the final question on “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” She kindly told us to wait for an hour and we’d have it all done. In the event it was 45 minutes but we ended up with everything – bar the plates which I’ll have to go collect in a week or so. The only massive bonus in all this was a year tax license was essentially 200Baht (£4). In the UK, a Ford Everest would have been in the £300 a year bracket.
So…the moral of this story is: if you want to register a car in Thailand you need:
a) perfectly filled out forms in Thai.
b) 3 hours spare time
c) someone with you who is fluent in the language…and I mean fluent.
d) Immense patience in the system.
If you’re not prepared to have any of these four points covered you are in for a world of pain. Good luck with that.
To the Polyglot….thank you again, my friend. Without you, things would have gone horribly awry.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?